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The IP Landscape for Wearables with Augmented Reality

Wearables with Augmented Reality

Elicet Cruz PhD., IALE Tecnologia, S.L.

You probably know Google Glass; who doesn’t...

It is Google’s flagship product expected to become massive in the market this year [1].  With Google Glass, the Mountain View California based company broke into the global market for wearable and augmented reality technologies.
 

Figure1 Google Glass patent application: U.S. 20130044042 A1 "Wearable device with input and output structures". Source: IFI CLAIMS Patent Services.
Figure1 Google Glass patent application: U.S. 20130044042 A1 "Wearable device with input and output structures". Source: IFI CLAIMS Patent Services.

The associated technology is widely known as Wearable computing technology. “Wearables” are those differently-shaped devices easily adaptable to our clothes and bodies and provided with local processing and storage computing capacities, capacities for communication and collaboration with the environment and for real-time access to information.

Google Glass also includes an emerging technology broadly known as “augmented reality” (AR).  AR enables interacting with the real world environment together with computer generated sensory input.  AR technologies are attractive not only for Google, but also for its competitors; Microsoft has recently acquired new patents on AR technologies that incorporate 3D motion sensors, thus is also trying to ensure its presence in this potentially highly profitable market.

What other products are included within wearable computing?

Among the most commercialized wearable devices are Smart watches (Apple’s iWatch, Samsung’s Gear Live, LG’s G Watch, …), glasses (Google Glass), contact lenses and smart fabrics, screens and small computers, hearing devices (Jawbone, Personics labs), smart shoes (Nike Fitband), intelligent fashion bracelets and rings (CuffLinc™ bracelet), etc.

Wearable computing is already affecting many domains such as fashion, education, transportation, gaming and music, health, aging, disability, among others. The market for wearable devices is estimated to reach $12.6 billion by 2018, according to Statista 2014. 
 

Figure 2. Market estimates of Wearable devices 2018 Source.: Statista
Figure 2. Market estimates of Wearable devices 2018 Source.: Statista

 

What is patented in wearable computing and augmented reality?

A general comprehensive search on wearable devices in the Claims Direct Global Database, from IFI Claims casts 35,755 patent documents filed during the last 10 years (2004-2014). In the same period 2,913 patents have been identified on devices (not wearable) including augmented reality, and 140 patents on wearable technology devices including "augmented reality” (purple color in Figure 3).

 

Figure 3. Patents on wearable devices integrated with augmented reality technology. Source: IFI Claims Global Database
Figure 3. Patents on wearable devices integrated with augmented reality technology. Source: IFI Claims Global Database

The table below shows the AR niche behavior (green) with respect to the total number of inventions on wearable devices (blue). The spectacular growth in the number of wearable inventions is appreciated, specifically of those devices including augmented reality.

Figure 4. Evolution of patent activity during the 2004-2014 period: "wearables" (blue), "augmented reality" (green), overlap (purple). Source: IFI Claims Global Database
Figure 4. Evolution of patent activity during the 2004-2014 period: "wearables" (blue), "augmented reality" (green), overlap (purple). Source: IFI Claims Global Database

In order to classify patent contents we analyzed 172 CPC patent codes [2]. The most frequent codes within the studied patent set (contained in more than 15 patents), are shown in Figure 5. Head mounted screens with wearable computers or information systems and image processing devices for interaction with the body or body parts are amongst the most widely used classification codes. Glasses stand out as the most developed and protected devices.

Figure 5. Main patented areas according to CPC codes. Source: IFI Claims Global Database
Figure 5. Main patented areas according to CPC codes. Source: IFI Claims Global Database

We have also processed the studied set of patents with the KMX Patent Analytics tool from Treparel Information Solutions. KMX provides clustering, visualization and auto-classification of patents, based on the patent text, through a process of iterative labeling and Support Vector Machine based machine learning. The resulting visualization offers a landscape map representing the main topics in the patent set (Figure 6). In the central part of the figure, for example, a main topic area with documents (black dots) related to glasses and ambient images is appreciated. Just above, another group of documents refers to improved optical flow; other differentiated topic areas include speech, visual markers, virtual items selection, etc.

Figure 6. Patent Clusters and Topic Labels. Source: IFI Claims Global Database, developed with KMX of Treparel
Figure 6. Patent Clusters and Topic Labels. Source: IFI Claims Global Database, developed with KMX of Treparel

Who is patenting wearable and augmented reality technology?

Large multinational technology companies are leading the development of wearable and AR based commercial products and services. During the considered period (2004-2014), more than two thousand companies (2,029) have filed patents on "augmented reality". Among the leading companies (owning more than 70 patents) are Pantech (152), Samsung Electronic (113), Qualcomm (103), Microsoft (155), Siemens (73), and Nokia (70).

Microsoft has acquired patents for augmented reality from Osterhout Design Group (ODG), a San Francisco based company that develops wearable technology accessories (head mounted devices for consumer, industry and defense applications) and whose main customer is the U.S. government.

Nokia, for example, has launched its Nokia City lens Beta software in 2013. Intel has introduced a technology for updating internal procedures; Samsung, Qualcomm and Sony also joined the group of leaders in the field.

Nearly 100 companies (98) hold patents on augmented reality integrated with wearable technology. The Patent Inventor Network map, produced using Matheo Patent, in figure 7 reveals a technology space with little collaboration in terms of technology development.  It also appears to be highly competitive. The leading assignee is Google with 51 patents. This is represented in the network of associated inventors (featuring top designer Mitchell Heinrich and engineer Xiaoyu Miao from Google X in the central area in the map). Other outstanding companies are Samsung, Sony Ericsson Mobile, Santa Fe Science and Tech, Colorado’s based product test lab Percept technology and Los Angeles based corporation Zugara Inc. which specializes in Augmented reality software. 

Figure 7. Network map showing patent assignees and inventors of devices with built in wearable augmented reality technologies. Source: IFI Claims Global Database. The map was produced with Matheo Analyzer Software.
Figure 7. Network map showing patent assignees and inventors of devices with built in wearable augmented reality technologies. Source: IFI Claims Global Database. The map was produced with Matheo Analyzer Software.

Matheo Patent is a flexible and easy-to-use software package which permits users to explore large volumes of data (http://www.matheo-software.com/en).

Concluding Remarks

Wearable devices, augmented reality and 3D sensors together create a highly attractive market with intense patent activity.  Major multinational companies are investing in new technologies through internal R&D, acquisitions and mergers. These new technologies will soon be found in everyday items such as glasses, watches, bracelets, shoes, clothes. Wearable computers and augmented reality are no longer science fiction. They are real technology and real life products.

Notes

[1] After its prototype release in 2011, its test in 2012 by Google I/O developers, and its restricted release in April last year, a wider release is planned for this year,  although Google glasses have -quite mysteriously- been hardly mentioned in the latest Google I/0 developers conference that has recently been held in San Francisco.

[2] 
The Cooperative Patent Classification is the new patent classification system developed jointly by the United States Patent and Trade Mark Office (USPTO) and the European Patent Office (EPO) and which is already integrated in the IFI Claims global patent database schema.

References

  1. Wearable device market value from 2010 to 2018 (in million U.S. dollars): http://www.statista.com/statistics/259372/wearable-device-market-value/
  2. Patents on wearable tech for fashion and function (pictures): http://www.cnet.com/pictures/patents-on-wearable-tech-for-fashion-and-function-pictures/
  3. Microsoft acquires patents for wearable technology worth up to $ 150: http://www.onwindows.com/Article/microsoft-acquires-patents-for-wearable-technology-worth-up-to-us150-8805#.U5rYcCjLPah
  4. Microsoft Paid Up To $150M To Buy Wearable Computing IP From The Osterhout Design Group: http://techcrunch.com/2014/03/27/microsoft-paid-up-to-150m-to-buy-wearable-computing-ip-from-the-osterhout-design-group/
  5. Spring 2014 Fashion Trend: Wearable Technology Patents:http://www.ipbrief.net/2014/04/12/spring-2014-fashion-trend-wearable-technology-patents/
  6. The Rise of the Wearable Tech Market: http://www.hanoverresearch.com/insights/the-rise-of-the-wearable-tech-market/?i=food-beverage and http://news.motionx.com/motionx/2013/10/30/fullpower-awarded-key-patents-for-wearable-technology-sensor-fusion-and-motion-processors/
  7. USPTO assignments to Ousterhout Group: http://assignments.uspto.gov/assignments/q?db=pat&qt=asnr&reel=&frame=&pat=&pub=&asnr=osterhout+group&asnri=&asne=&asnei=&asns
  8. Mitchell Heinrich’s site http://mitchellheinrich.com/
  9. Xiaoyu Miao’s site https://sites.google.com/site/xmiaosite/
Edited